Saturday, May 25, 2013

Notes From a Second Clarinet

The Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is harmony – “Ipse harmoniaest”.

He is indeed harmony. Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization.

But if instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit.

Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are very dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church’s teaching and community – the Apostle John tells us in his Second Letter - and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn 1:9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, overcoming every form of exclusivity? Do I let myself be guided by him, living in the Church and with the Church?
Pope Francis, Homily, Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013

Reflection – This is an incredibly balanced and sane presentation of the whole question of unity-in-diversity in the Church. This week has seen a great deal of internet kerfuffle about Pope Francis’ remarks on atheists and redemption. In my typical contrarian fashion I have chosen not to blog about those remarks, on the sound principle that everyone else is saying everything else that needs to be said, so what’s left?

But I have to admit, I’m a bit baffled at how people are astounded (!), baffled (!), perplexed (!), shocked (!!!) at these various remarks by the pope. As far as I can figure out, he is stating fairly conventional Catholic doctrines, and doing so in a fairly simple, straightforward way. It is usually not a great shocking baffling astounding perplexing matter to learn that the Pope is Catholic. I even believe there is a proverb to that effect, often accompanied by one concerning the locative properties of ursine excretion. (What and where Catholic bears do is a matter I will not delve into here. This is a family blog.)

Ahem. So here we see the Pope’s Catholicity in another expression. The Spirit brings diversity, but always within the Church. The Spirit has manifold gifts, charisms, and graces which create a beautiful harmony, but the melody to that harmony is always our holy Catholic faith handed down to us from the apostles. There is a rich polyphony of instrument and voice in the life of the Church, but the conductor drawing all these diverse musicians together into a symphony is the teaching magisterium of the Church.

But the conductor is not the composer. The magisterium has a task of unity so as to safeguard the beauty of the harmony of the Church, but it does not create that harmony, does not write the notes. That is the mission of the Spirit in the world, and it is a mission ongoing in each of our hearts.

We have to get as clear in our own minds about this as we can be, since the world is anything but clear about it and shows no signs of moving in that direction. The magisterium—the pope and the bishops together—is a servant of the Spirit and of the whole Body of Christ in all its diversity. But this service may and at times does take the form of disciplining, of correcting, even of ‘silencing’ a discordant oboe or out of tune tuba. Of course, the Church has no police force, no prison system, no control of public media, so 'silencing' is a relative term here, to say the least. (I will never forget the dissident theologian taking out a full page ad in the New York Times blaring "I HAVE BEEN SILENCED!")

For us second clarinets or third trumpets, our call is to give our whole heart and soul, our entire breath, to the notes, the beauty, that the Spirit is giving us to play in our lives, but always with our eyes on the director, the conductor, always ready to be ‘harmonized’ in the life of the Church by its leaders, never stepping out as a solo act, but also never retreating into passivity and sullen silence when we can’t play our part exactly as we envisioned.

The magisterium is not the composer, but neither are you and I. And so we all strain together to listen to the Spirit, let Him write the movement of this long symphony called Christianity that we are just one small ‘bar’ to, and trust that the whole piece taken together possesses a beauty that is beyond our wildest imaging, a full beauty we will only hear in heaven, but what a joy it will be there, to hear the whole thing, and finally see how our little part fit into it.


  1. Father Denis,

    Well, my whole trouble is that I do not see as clearly "fairly ocnventional catholic doctrines". I am always asking God: now is that an essential or non essential fact or idea?

    Deferring to the Holy Father to resolve or somehow legislate an answer- is in fact what is so upsetting to some of the liberal catholics- because that deferrence is in part what they object to.

    Sometimes, when I read what Pope Francis writes, it is almost like he is turning my head from himself to God. I love that about him.

    I like your image about an orchestra or choir for God. "our call is to give our whole heart to note the spirit is giving us to play".

    After I read that I thought of Colossians 3:14, almost immediately "And above all these put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony".

    How much easier evrything thing would be if we truly loved each other.

    Bless you

    1. God bless you (and sorry for always being so slow to respond - life is just so busy...). Well, my reference was fairly oblique, but the 'controversy' that I was alluding to was the Pope suggesting that all people are redeemed by Christ (clear teaching of Scripture, tradition) and that all people are capable of moral action, and indeed are bound to strive for morally upright lives (clear teaching of Scripture and.... common sense, I guess!). So that's what I was referring to, nothing even remotely controversial, actually, but people seemed to think it was, which is weird. We live in a time of great intellectual confusion.
      Meanwhile... yes, you put your finger on the issue when it is something more genuinely controversial. My take on it is, 'well, why is it so terrible to defer to the Pope?' Especially since in most of the really 'hot button issues' he is not speaking of his own opinions but merely upholding 2000 years of consistent doctrine? I know I'm not a 'liberal Catholic' and fundamentally disagree with that approach, but I have to admit I am flummoxed by the objection, since I just don't understand how else to be Catholic besides a real acceptance of papal authority.
      Anyhow, in the meantime... yes, Christians let us love one another.

    2. Father Denis,

      It's okay, I know you are really too. I appreciate that you write here everyday... Really, a big gift for all of us. Thank you.

      Yes, I knew before you wrote what you would say about deferring to the Pope... I was just pointing out, nothing is clear...

      Also, i really loved what Pope Francis said about Jesus saving all of us, and being united in doing good. Something to really think and pray about,

      I really do not understand the change in the Eucharistic prayer- where we used to pray togetherJesus came for all- and now pray he came for the many. How did that change come about, exactly and what does it mean- in light of what you and the Pope have written?

      It is okay to take your time to answer... Thank you.

    3. Well, essentially all the changes to the Eucharistic prayer are about being faithful to the Latin original (and the Greek original which is behind it). Pro multis and pro polloi are not ambiguous words to render into English: for many.
      Pope Benedict actually wrote quite a bit about this specific change, though, and makes a very nuanced point about it. 'The many' in Biblical terms, both Hebrew and Greek, refers to the mass of humanity, a deliberately unspecific group of people. 'Folks in general' is the basic sense of it.
      So when we talk about Jesus' death 'for the many' or 'for many', it does not limit it to a specific group in that biblical sense of the phrase. It does make the point, though, that while Jesus certainly did die for everyone, which is a matter of clear Church teaching, some may refuse to profit by that death, may refuse the grace of redemption even though it is offered to each. And in that sense, the Lord did not die for that person - that is, he did intend to die for that person, but he or she refused the gift of salvation.
      So by changing 'for all' to 'for many', the Church is acknowledging that salvation is offered to all, but not all are necessarily saved. So the slight anxiety and concern the change in wording causes us is, perhaps, salutary for us - it's not all automatic.

  2. Father Denis,

    Years ago when my friend Norm died from AIDS...before the antiviral cocktails...when death from all complications of the virus and the secondary infections was exceedingly more gruesome...I worried that Norm would not go to God.

    I never worried that God would not have him...because Norm was kind and good and funny and smart. I worried that Norm would not have God. I worried that after everything he would just turn away.

    Father Pelton wrote me then, and his words are still sort of burned in my soul. "when Norm sees the face of God he will finally know what love is, and he will not be a le to turn away from such love".

    Over the years, I have thought and prayed about that. In the difficult times and in the light times. Maybe, salvation, intellectually, is not automatic- but we were created for love and to be love and to be loved. That is still the greatest truth of all.

    Bless you


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